President Obama at the White House after averting a government shutdown last Friday (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
When you listen to Barack Obama these days, it sometimes seems as though his words are crafted with the intention of driving those who were once his most passionate supporters crazy. So after agreeing under threat of a government shutdown to painful cuts to domestic programs, he goes in front of the cameras and hails "the largest annual spending cut in our history," as though that were a good thing. And before the deal was worked out, Obama said repeatedly that the controversy represented "the usual Washington politics" -- in other words, just some partisan bickering, of which one can assume both parties are equally guilty.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
In 1986, a young anti-tax activist had an idea. What if instead of just encouraging legislators not to raise taxes, you made them promise never to do so? And made them actually sign their names to such an agreement? After all, if they accepted, they would be bound by the promise (at least politically), and if they refused, they could be accused of harboring secret pro-tax fantasies, something no good Republican would want.
The most popular book in America right now is the inspiring true story of a 4-year-old boy who visited heaven during his emergency appendectomy. Upon recovering, young Colton Burpo told his parents about how he had met Jesus, who rides on a "rainbow horse." His father, an evangelical pastor, was astonished. The boy's story couldn't possibly be the product of a dream or his imagination -- after all, there are "rainbow colors described in the book of Revelation, which is hardly preschool material," and Colton described Jesus as having marks on his hands and feet. How would a 4-year-old living in a pastor's house have picked up that information?
You may have had this experience recently: As you watch someone from the opposing party on television saying something you know isn't true or holding fast to some plainly immoral position, you ask yourself, "Just what is wrong with them? Are they stupid, or do they just not care?"
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (AP Photo/M.P. King, Wisconsin State Journal)
Both Democrats and Republicans tend to believe that their opponents are more efficient, organized, and ruthless than their own side is. This may partly be a result of each side's belief that, in a fair fight, they wouldn't lose -- the American people must surely vote for their opponents only when manipulated into doing so. But the fact that the left and the right are each envious of the other side's skills doesn't mean that both sides are, in fact, equally skilled. The unending battle between the two parties isn't only a matter of who can devise a clever argument or air the most memorable ads. It's also about conflicts that take years or even decades to play out, ones more lasting and fundamental than the outcome of today's legislative debate.